My mother loved her hats and she loved her hat boxes just as much. I don’t think I realized how many hats she really had until she got sick and I had to organize her things at her house. Maybe part of her methodology was to keep things looking a little disorganized to make it difficult to get an accurate accounting of her wardrobe pieces and accessories. I know that I have hidden things in the car or in the closet or tried to disguise new purchases so as not to bring attention to them until I was ready to justify the purchase. I think my mother had a gift for creating this same type of confusion. It was also helpful that she had four closets and the blessing of a deep top shelf in the walk-in closet in her room.
Mama loved the straw hats she wore in the southern heat. I think all of her straw hats had large artificial flowers attached to them. The one I remember most vividly was of the floppy, limp hat variety. She wore it when she went out shopping or on picnics with her social club. Mama also donned straw hats when she worked in her flower garden. Her hats completed her outfits even when she labored over her plants.
Mama also purchased beautiful hats for Sunday services. She used to talk about “Sunday go to meeting clothes.” Because being appropriately dressed for church was important to her, she invested her resources in making sure that she had an abundant selection of suits and dresses to wear to church and any other meeting for that matter. No outfit was complete, however, without the accessories which included a hat. There were hats in seemingly every color of the spectrum. Her hats varied in shape, sizes, fabric textures, and color. She had hats for all occasions like the black net for times she attended funerals or the pastel colored net for Easter service. Some of the hats were accented with jewels and pins. The selection of hats permitted her to coordinate the color and style of the hat with any dress or suit she might chose to wear for any occasion. Most of her hats were stored in hat boxes with paper stuffed in them to maintain the shape. In the years that led up to the start of her illness, she didn’t wear hats that often, but the hats remained a part of her identity. I knew the hats were important to her, but I had no idea the hat boxes were valued by her to such a great extent until one particular visit to her home.
Once, my husband, my kids, and I went to visit Mama. We spent days helping her clean out her frig, kitchen cabinets, and pantry. Our visits home also involved taking her to run errands so that she could complete tasks that she saved until she had a visitor. Often she used these trips as opportunities to reintroduce us to all of the folks she “traded” with in town. It was always a rush to run all of the errands she had on her list and complete her list of chores before it was time for us to return home. In addition, to the cleaning, errands, and chores, we had another ritual which involved pound cake.
My mom’s sister who lived in the area made the best pound cakes and every time we went home we would hope that Mama would remember to ask her sister to cook a pound cake for us. All of us would survey the living room to see if the glass cake plate contained Auntie’s pound cake. During the course of the visit, we would thank Auntie for baking the cake and we would also ask her to bake one for us to take home with us. On this visit we ran short on time so in order for us to get the pound cake, another relative had to connect with my aunt and then deliver the cake to us. Before we left, I put the cake which was already in a plastic bag into a brown paper bag. My mother said, “You can’t take a pound cake on a plane in a paper bag!” She went into her room and came back with a really pretty hat box. I am not sure why it mattered if anyone knew that my paper bag held a cake wrapped in foil and tied up in a plastic bag. It didn’t matter to me, but it mattered to my mama who ate her cake slices on a glass plate. How did she ever raise a girl who was content to eat her pound cake over a napkin or over the palm of the other hand.
So, the pound cake played the role of a hat and found a temporary home in one of Mama’s prettiest and most prized hat boxes. Mama felt a lot better about this method of transport. She hugged me goodbye and said, “And don’t forget to bring my hat box back.” I knew she meant every word of that directive. My mother chose her words carefully and she loved what she loved. I completely understood that she loved that hat box and she meant for me to bring it back to her unharmed.
We got on the flight in Birmingham and flew to Tampa. After an enjoyable trip home, we landed in Tampa, got our bags, and got to the house. As we pulled up to the house, I said, “Oh no! The cake!” I heard a swarm of other voices saying, “What?! The cake? Where?” Oh my goodness, we left the cake in the overhead compartment over our seats on the plane. With fear and panic setting in I thought, “Oh no, Mama is going to kill me.” I got on the phone quickly and called the airline to announce that I left a cake on the plane. The nice lady said that they throw away food and beverages when they find perishable items that have been left on flights. I told her that they wouldn’t know it was a cake because it was in a hat box. She said, “Oh, well in that case, the hat box will be taken off of the flight when the plane is taken out of service.” I said, “Ok, good. So, when can I come to the airport to pick up the hat box and the cake?” She responded, “That plane is on its way to Ft. Lauderdale.” “What?! Do you think I will get the hat box back. It is my mom’s and she will have a fit if I lose that hat box.” The lady advised me that they would do a search for the hat and send a message to the folks at the South Florida airport to send the hat box with the cake back to Tampa.” She came shy of promising that the cake and my mother’s hat box would be returned to me, but she did say that an airline representative would call if they recovered it and got it to Tampa.
Well, a day or so later I got a call that my package was at the airline office at the airport. I raced over after work and the security guard outside let me leave my car at the curb while I ran in to collect my goods. I remembered the directive to bring my picture I.D. I quickly reached into my purse for the I.D. and ran into the airport. I was greeted by the representative and I advised that I was there for a package. I put my identification on the counter only to learn that I grabbed my credit card in my haste. Frustration set in and I shook my head in disbelief. The attendant asked what I was coming to retrieve and I said, “The cake in the hat box.” Then, there was laughter. The person said, “I will give it to you. You are the only person I know who would be looking for a cake in a hat box.” I was relieved to have Mama’s hat box back and thrilled that we were reunited with the pound cake.